I’ve been coaching the 7th and 8th Grade Girls’ Volleyball Team at my daughter Sophia’s school. Actually, I was the assistant coach because a teacher at the school agreed to be the head coach. She was awesome. A P.E. teacher who played volleyball in college, I learned a lot from her. 20 girls signed up for our team and none of them were cut. That’s a lot of players on one team for a sport with a 6-person squad.
To be honest, being the assistant coach was the best job. I got to the be person that encouraged these 20 teens as they learned to do something new. Many of them had never played volleyball before. We had to instruct them on the basics, passing, setting, hitting, serving. Over the course of 6 weeks, we got to watch them slowly but surely improve. “Nice serve,” I’d say, “Great pass.” Or, “Next time, bend your knees a little when you set. It will help you push the ball higher… Yes, that’s it!” My favorite part of practice was when they were serving all at once, trying to improve their overhand or underhand. I was the one chasing down balls and giving them to the servers. I loved being the team’s assistant.
It may be that I liked being the assistant because in home life and work life, I’m the one in charge. I’m always thinking and planning and anticipating what has to happen, and I’m invested in whether things turn out the way I hoped they would. As an assistant coach, my role was to help the coach and the team feel supported. I’m pretty sure I succeeded because the work itself felt like play and it was satisfying.
We had our last match this evening. We lost 2-0 and really did terribly in the second game, losing 25-4. But in the first game, there were moments of brilliance. A perfect pass of a hard serve. A one handed dig. A rally with two, count ’em, two bump, set, spike plays. A serving streak by someone who had taken half the season to get even on ball over the net during practice. And they encouraged each other, creating energy after a lost point, setting up on the balls of their feet, hands in front of them, heads up, ready for the next play.
If I take a moment and think about it, I’m in awe. Think what we did. We pulled together a group of 22 people to do something we had never done before as a group. People who didn’t know how to play volleyball, didn’t even know the basic rules of the game, now knew how to play. We got better over time, improved with each drill, each practice, each game, each win, and each loss. Truth be told, there were more losses than wins – we went 2 and 4 – but I was proud to be counted among them. Being around these young people as they leaned into learning something new inspired me.
I recommend to anyone that you try being an assistant coach someday.